Beechcraft has quietly developed and certificated a more powerful version of the King Air 350ER for military and other special missions customers.
The upgrade to a higher-thrust version of the Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A turboprop engine is aimed at bolstering sales at a time when the US military is withdrawing troops – and dozens of King Air surveillance aircraft – from Afghanistan.
Commercial customers of the King Air 350ER will continue to be offered the 1,050shp-class PT6A-60 engine, says Roger Hubble, Beechcraft’s senior product marketing manager, special missions, trainer and attack aircraft.
But military operators will be offered an upgrade to the 1,200shp-class PT6A-67, he says.
Though Beechcraft has not yet “productionised” the latest model, Hubble says, the first aircraft modified with the new engines has completed flight testing and the type is certificated by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
“In the military market that lets us take off out of Afghanistan with a full load of fuel,” he says.
The US military plans to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, where the King Air 350ER has been heavily relied upon to provide aerial surveillance. The US Air Force, for example, acquired a fleet of MC-12W Libertys to deploy to Afghanistan and Iraq.
Beechcraft believes, however, that demand from intelligence agencies and private contractors for the King Air 350ER will offset the withdrawal of conventional forces from Afghanistan.
“Yes, the Liberty fleet is going to pull out,” Hubble says. “But there are some other people going in that are mostly private contractor-style, but they are operating similar missions.”
Meanwhile, foreign customers in Colombia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have expressed interest in buying more King Air 350ER for special missions.
A military customer in Europe has ordered a new King Air 350ER with a higher gross weight of (7,940kg) 17,500lb, Hubble adds.